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18 July 2016 - Ingrid Krause

Chimes of the porcelain carillon

Meissen porcelain bell of the carillon in Böttcherstrasse
© Ingrid Krause

The carillon in Böttcherstrasse is different. It’s unlike any carillon that I know of. And that fits in with Bremen. As I recently made my way through yet another throng of people enjoying the carillon in the small square in Böttcherstrasse, I thought to myself: I must have a closer look at those bells. No sooner said than done.

Where brick meets wood and porcelain

The Böttcherstrasse is a work of art, a pedestrian street made entirely of brick. There’s plenty to explore here, such as Himmelssaal hall, the Sieben Faulen fountain and house, and the Bonbon Manufaktur sweet shop. But this time, I’m looking up to the carillon.

View of the carillon from below
The carillon in Böttcherstrasse. © Ingrid Krause

This charming attraction in Böttcherstrasse has been around since 1934 and is a real one-off. Traditional folk songs are played on 30 bells made of Meissen porcelain. A plastic hammer hits the outside of each bell, creating a soft sound that carries far and wide. As porcelain is very light, it can be used in quite inaccessible places, for example between two gables.

These days, you can hear the third generation of bells, which were adapted to digital technology in 2009. The Sparkasse savings bank bought Böttcherstrasse in 1988 and funded substantial refurbishments to it, so it comes as no surprise that the bells also play the Sparkassen jingle. After all, patronage of the arts has a long tradition in Bremen.

Collage: window and tower with wooden panel in Böttcherstrasse
The Sparkasse savings bank sponsors the entire Böttcherstrasse, including the carillon. © Ingrid Krause

While the carillon plays its various melodies, ten carved wooden panels are displayed in rotation in a specially built tower on the corner of the Roselius Haus Museum. The panels were given a maritime theme by artist Bernhard Hoetger at the request of Ludwig Roselius. They are a good fit with Bremen and its ports, and with the city’s importance as an aviation hub. The panels depict people who have crossed the Atlantic, such as Columbus, Leif Erikson, Fulton, König, Lindbergh, and Zeppelin.

Houses opposite the carillon in Böttcherstrasse
View from Glockenspiel House on to Böttcherstrasse. © Ingrid Krause

The small square in front of the carillon is packed with locals and visitors every hour from noon to 6pm between April and December, unless it’s frosty. There is a wonderful atmosphere, and if it starts raining, like today, then there are plenty of places to seek refuge, for example in the archways. Or in one of the Böttcherstrasse Museums, for example the Roselius Haus Museum, or the Stäv bar and restaurant, the Schüttinger brewpub or the Atlantis cinema. Or …

Sign with playing times of the carillon
A sign announcing the carillon performances. © Ingrid Krause

Now I’m dying to find out what is going on behind the scenes, so I meet up with Susanne Gerlach from Böttcherstrasse GmbH. The location of her offices certainly makes me a little envious.

But I notice that the digital music technology looks rather humdrum. It’s just a box on the wall. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but a look behind the scenes was probably more interesting when it was all still played by hand.

The digital game technology through a computer on the wall.
The computer is in total control. © Lea Kleinspehn

So, what does it sound like? The tune lasts several minutes, certainly too long for an online video clip. You can see and hear a short sequence in our film, but of course it doesn’t come close to the real thing. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy it.

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A special kind of music

Over the summer, we offer guests and locals some unusual guided tours. Last year, one of our tours allowed participants to explore and play the carillon. I wanted to give it a go too, and found this interactive carillon that you can practice on. Using my iPad, I more or less managed to teach myself a melody. But to my horror, I discover that the real keyboard starts at the key with the red dot (an f note), totally different to the interactive keyboard. So, I quickly cover the end of the keyboard that I won’t be needing.

Collage: Ingrid Krause practicing at the keyboard
If you’re worried about embarrassing yourself, you can practice online. © Ingrid Krause

You can’t secretly practise on the keyboard here, as everything is immediately transmitted to the carillon right in front of the window. Oh dear, will I scare off all those visitors from around the world? Or am I so good that they’ll call for an encore? Might I even get my own fan club?

Collage: keyboard and carillon
You can play directly on the keyboard. © Ingrid Krause

None of the above. To be honest, nobody seems to be that interested. I don’t know if that is a good or a bad sign, so I blame the drizzly rain. Well, do you recognise the song?

Böttcherstrasse GmbH allows people to play live on the carillon on special occasions. As it requires a lot of time and effort, and they don’t have a lot of staff, it’s only permitted occasionally.

And to finish off, here’s a photo from my really difficult job!

House of the carillon
The wooden panels rotate while the carillon plays. © Ingrid Krause

Directly below the carillon, in Böttcherstrasse 4, you will find our tourist information. Visit us!

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